Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Review
It’s rare that I slip trail shoes, or any shoes for that matter, on my feet where the fit is absolutely perfect—where not one toe is scrunched, not one nail is compressed, and where my midfoot and heel are snugly held in place without any constriction or potential for friction. For my feet, Salomon’s fit has often been as close to perfect as there is. I have a long and storied history with the women’s Speedcross, and despite the soccer-boot narrowness and lack of true forefoot cushioning, it has never cost me a race—several toenails and some tender foot bones, yes, but not a race. I dabbled in the women’s Sense Pro a few times, and while I loved the fit even more, I rarely got more than 200 to 250 miles out of the shoe as it tended to break down quickly for me. Needless to say, I was very excited to test the new S-Lab Sense Ultra ($180) the past several months.
I should highlight that it is Salomon’s unisex fit which I really struggle with only because I do believe personally and professionally as a physical therapist that the anatomical and biomechanical differences between women’s and men’s feet and bodies are real and should be designed for as such. I’ve spoken with Salomon regarding a previous shoe about this, and they reassured me that the unisex fit is much closer to a women’s fit than a men’s. While I have not found this to be true for my foot in a few of their other unisex shoes, it does seem it to be true for the Sense Ultra. Perhaps it’s the ideal alignment of Salomon’s technologies and research for me.
The Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra is a 275-gram shoe that has an 8mm drop while keeping the overall stack height at 26mm in the heel and 18mm in the forefoot. It’s said to be the ultrarunning version of the racy Salomon Sense 6 (220 grams, 4mm drop, and less cushioning). Personally, having not worn the Sense 6, I found it to be similar to the Sense Pro with the roomier forefoot, the perfectly dialed-in mid- and rear-foot, but with much more effective cushioning and durability. The Sense Ultra can tackle almost any terrain in most conditions without a second thought. What you lack in traction with the smaller lugs (compared to the Speedcross or other deeper-lugged shoes), you more than make up for in ground feel, stability over uneven obstacles, and the firmly cushioned ride. I’d still prefer a pair of deeper lugged shoes for muddy and snowy conditions, but for everything else, this shoe is outstanding.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Upper
The upper utilizes a single-layer, quick-dry mesh combined with a nylon layer to enhance breathability and flow of moisture out of the shoe. The overlays greatly enhance the stability of the upper by continuously wrapping from the lace guides down to a full-perimeter overlay that integrates in with the firm but pliable heel cup. This coupled with the substantial toe bumper provide a lot of protection to incursions from trail debris without adding much weight or stiffness. This Sensifit system integrated with the Quicklace lacing cradles my foot really well. After the first time wearing the shoe, I was able to adjust the lacing such that I rarely have to do more than pull the tab to tighten and go. Occasionally if I get the laces too gunked up with mud I have to make a few adjustments, but it’s rare. I know these laces don’t work for everyone, but for me, I have no issues.
The internal fit of the Sense Ultra upper feels almost custom. Salomon calls it the Endofit technology, but it truly does make the shoe feel like an extension of my foot. Combined with the Ortholite open-cell molded footbed, and the wider padded tongue, it’s this trail running Cinderella’s dream—a perfect fit. After 150 miles of every kind of condition (snow, slush, dust, dirt, puddles, and light mud), there is not yet any place in the upper of my shoes that shows abrasions or is flexing uncomfortably. I look forward to many adventures to come.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Midsole
The midsole of the Sense Ultra is comprised of a dual-density compressed EVA. The technical description of the midsole utilizes words like “high rebound,” “exceptional energy return,” and “substantial cushioning” and these truly bear out in my experience. Functionally, the EnergyCell+ compound utilized provides a very pleasant, firm, cushioned ride with no energy wasted by the ample shock absorption. Energy out through my lower kinetic chain results in direct propulsion forward. Another aspect of the ride that I really appreciate is the ease with which the shoe rolls from initial foot strike through toe-off. I’m not an exceptionally efficient runner, but this shoe maximizes the flow as I roll through the stance phase of running regardless of whether I’m speeding on flat ground, pushing hard up a hill, or powerhiking along. The OS Tendon construction and the Profeel Film make the transition from heel to toe seamless even right out of the box. I don’t often feel ‘fast and zippy’ when I run, but these shoes convince me that I am.
I’m most pleased with the durability I’m continuing to find in this midsole. The shoes are just as comfortable now in the summer temperatures as they were a few months ago as our blasts of winter continued to alternate with unseasonably warm weeks. The temperature and humidity swings haven’t affected the rebound or ride at all. Granted, I keep these shoes sheltered in my cozy, climate-controlled home and not on the rack of retired but still functional shoes in the garage, but I’m quite convinced these shoes have several hundred more miles in them.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Outsole
The outsole is Salomon’s Premium Wet Traction Contagrip compound that is one of the best in the industry for creating traction in rocky, wet, and otherwise adverse conditions. It’s highly durable and at 150 miles of testing shows no obvious signs of wear. This shoe is equally adept at climbing steep dirt trails with some light scrambling as it is rolling down a dirt road when the high country is off limits. I had no difficulty over sections of packed wintry trails as long as there was some roughness to the surface of the snow. In the absence of clay, the outsole sheds mud very quickly. The clay tended to build up only to the lug depth before peeling off mid-stride—Colorado Front Range approved.
The S-Lab Sense Ultra is certainly one of my top choices for a summer and fall trail racing shoe at any of the distances (half marathon to 50 miles) I tackle. I simply love the shoe. It’s the perfect combination of a perfect fit with a smooth, nimble, yet protective ride. I can’t think of one thing I’d improve or alter. The only drawback I see for some, including me, is the price point. There are countless arguments on either side of the price versus quality debate, but each runner has to make that decision for themselves. Good luck with that conundrum if the siren’s call of the Sense Ultra proves loud.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you run in the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra? What are your thoughts on the shoe in general?
- And how about the fit, ride, and upper specifically? And are you finding the shoe to be durable, too?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]